A mentor will become not only your advisor, but your friend and confidante. That doesn’t happen instantly—building trust and personal interest takes time. You set the tone at the outset of the relationship by demonstrating your commitment to the process.
How can you best establish the base on which to build a solid mentoring relationship? Carol O’Kelly of Redstorm, a Marketing Strategy company based in Dublin, Ireland and a leading provider of business mentoring and coaching, says consistency and preparation are essential. “Frequency of contact is important in the relationship to keep the learning process moving forward. Each new discussion with the mentor should include updates from the mentee on items the mentor recommended in the previous meeting.” Carol stresses that the mentor needs to be involved in the big picture, not just the details. “Working together to set goals can be pivotal. Not only should the mentor/mentee talk about current specific issues, they should also focus on short and long term goals together with all the surrounding business noise.”
Come to every meeting prepared. Take time to review your discussion and to set action items. Before your next meeting, review those items and ensure you have actively moved your status forward. Bring the notes to the next meeting for discussion. O’Kelly, who has spent years working closely with entrepreneurs, stresses that there’s more to an effective mentoring relationship than organized meetings, and has some great advice on the interpersonal aspects of the mentoring relationship:
Take an interest in the person as a human being. Get to know them not just through mentoring activities, keep in touch during daily activities… this goes both ways – regular and informal communications are key to building this relationship. How did the work out go? Was the London weekend fun? I saw this and thought it’d make you laugh… etc. All very simple, all very effective at gaining a deeper understanding of the other persons click points – which leads to a deeper relationship and more valuable mentoring.
Don’t say, “I’d like to pick your brain.” My brain “has been picked dry” and I start feeling bored when I hear those words. I know the time I spend with that person is going to be nothing but an interrogation. Instead say, “I would really value your opinion.” It’s much gentler and I get the sense that it will be a more pleasant conversation rather than an interrogation with harsh lights shining down.
Don’t try to monopolize a lot of your mentor’s time at first. Connect in a way that’s quick and easy. Schedule meetings in advance. Email is great as I can deal with it immediately, or if I have a lot on I will get back to you when I have a minute but I don’t feel threatened and hassled. Don’t suddenly arrive at the door expecting to get a mentor’s time, you’d be surprised how often it happens.
Be clear about what you’re doing and what you need. There is so much “murky thinking” in the world. I’m amazed that people feel they have to write five pages to express one idea. That means you don’t really know what you’re talking about. Work on developing a clear elevator speech and mission statement. Think about one or two specific questions you need answered and think about your words and how to ask those questions clearly. Put questions and issues down on paper first, it’s a good trick to help you think through an issue you may be able to deal with yourself which gives you a feeling of achievement and frees up your mentor meeting for something you really need help on.
Listen, listen, listen to what they say. Don’t think about all the reasons why you can’t. That’s part of the reason why you’re not there yet. Say, “I’m dealing with yada, yada, yada – how would you suggest overcoming those obstacles? And then let your mind listen without the automatic “Can’t do it that way” response.
Thank the person for their time. Tell them what you’re going to do and then when you take action, be sure to let them know what you’re doing. Always, always, always tell them when you take an action step – keep them in the loop, without this any mentor is operating in the dark and you will not get any value from working with them.
Reciprocate once in awhile. If you see a great article that you think your mentor would enjoy – send it on with a quick note. If you have a trade or a skill and can offer to help him out in some way – offer it. Don’t say, “How can I help you?” Then they have to figure it out. Even if they never take you up on it, they will appreciate your offer.
Learn to make the link between cause and effect. Don’t put your mentor in a position where he/she has to figure it all out for you. You’re not a child. The job of a mentor is not to take you by the hand every step of the way. It’s to give you some guidance as you’re on your way. Your job is to make the link between what you are told and how you will apply it to your life. With mutual respect, demonstrated through action as well as attitude, your mentoring relationship can be mutually extremely rewarding.